Forever in the Third Person

Published: Apr 19, 2018

“Do we need an aisle chair for him?”

“Can he transfer?”

“Is his chair foldable?”

“What would they like to order?”

I encounter this a lot when trying to conduct business or some kind of transaction while with an able‐bodied person. More often than not, the person asking all of these questions about me decides that there’s no need to ask them to me and instead directs them at my companion.

While I doubt there’s any malicious intent behind this kind of treatment, it doesn’t make it feel any less hurtful. At the very least it feels infantilizing and at most it makes me feel like a topic of the conversation instead of a participant; it takes away my personhood and makes me a pronoun.

Disabled people put a tremendous amount of effort into conforming to the cultural standards required of them to be out in public: we go to physical therapy to help conceal our weakened limbs; we practice for hours in an attempt to hide vocal ticks or speech impediments; we even take it upon ourselves to figure out all of the logistics required for us to smoothly participate in social events so as not to burden our able‐bodied friends.

We do all of this and still, no one wants to hear what we have to say. People still want to talk to our perceived handlers than directly to us.

I’m honestly not sure what to do at this point other than call out this behavior when I see it. I’ve started interrupting and responding to misdirected questions and putting extra emphasis on the first word or two.


Person: (to my companion) Can he transfer?

Me: Yes, I can transfer and walk up steps if there’s a railing.

I’ve found this to be fairly effective in correcting the behavior in the person I’m dealing with. The sudden change in volume and emphasis on the first‐person pronoun is usually a strong enough hint.

If that still doesn’t fix it, a firm “I’m right here!” also works.